We are currently caught in the mad end-of-year rush and it feels like there are just not enough hours in the day. My brain is trying to keep up with my diary and I often find myself wishing that I could be in two places at once. Multitasking is an understatement.
While one might feel like you are getting more done while multitasking, studies show that it might actually make us less efficient and more prone to errors. I catch myself forgetting the most obvious things and making silly mistakes. Multitasking divides our attention. When tasks are simple, like watching television while cooking dinner and helping kids with homework, the challenge isn’t that big. It is when tasks are complex and demand focus that multitasking becomes an issue. The lack of focus is a big challenge. Without focus our engagement is shallow and we struggle to learn.
We think we’re getting more done, but are we really? We’ve become so used to doing more than one thing at a time that we feel guilty when we’re not. Watching news while having your dinner might save time, but you might miss the crime stats while dishing up more pasta. Some studies suggest that those of us who regularly “media multitask” (listening to music while reading email, scrolling through social media while watching television, etc.) are more distracted and less able to focus – even when they have to attend to a single task.
Other than preventing you from optimising each task or challenge, multitasking can even be dangerous – the reason why we shouldn’t text and drive, for is instance. And it can be bad for your peace of mind. Being all over the place prevents you from engaging. Such a lack of mindfulness can make us depressed and anxious. (Read more)
According to this article on mental health, one study found that just 2.5% of people are able to multitask effectively. For the rest of us, multitasking isn’t actually what the word implies, despite the sense of accomplishment at the end of the day when your long list is ticked off.
Sometimes you don’t have a choice. Even when you plan perfectly, live happens – planes are delayed, the weather doesn’t play along or you get sick. I also have to admit, I enjoy the tempo of multitasking. A full calendar and a variety on my plate energise me and make me feel more creative. Am I fooling myself or can there be benefits to multitasking?
Professor Shimul Melwani of UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School had the same questions. “Might multitasking actually increase our mental activity? And if so, might that lead – at least temporarily – to increased creativity?” She initiated research mixing lab experiments with data collection from real-world scenarios. (Read more) The research suggested that because multitasking demands more cognitive resources (attention, memory, etc.), the brain activates more resources to meet the increased demands. At such a higher level of brain activation, you can have more energy and be more creative.
The studies do not suggest that multitasking is the only way to go. It is about having a varied approach: focused when dealing with complex issues and intricate detail and multitasking when creativity and energy are required.
Focus is essential when compiling your budget and planning your logistics, but if you are in the hospitality business, constantly solving problems and meeting customer demands, there is no other way than the energy and creativity of multitasking.